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I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam; I looked into the soul of the boy sitting next to me.
Last week I was asked about promotion tests. If your teacher asks you to test do you have to test?
Not to test
I think once you have shodan and a black belt it's OK not to test if you are really not interested in grades. But if you have trained for a long time and you still have a white belt there is maybe a danger of becoming a Q-car. A Q-car (in the US a sleeper car) is a modest-looking car with a hidden powerful engine. Like a VW Beetle with a Porsche engine. Hello. Surprise! The name came from the Q-ships. They were originally warships disguised as innocent merchant ships to invite attacks from submarines. When the submarines surfaced to attack the Q-ship revealed its guns. It sounds like advice from The Art of War by Sun Tzu ("all warfare is based on deception") or The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi. Or Captain Morgan the pirate.
I knew one man with a white belt who had a solid background in several martial arts and quite a few years of aikido training who surprised a few shihan with his powerful grip and attacks. So if you have a white belt and your teacher asks you to take a test it's probably a good idea to do it.
If a test is too expensive to fit in your financial priorities of course just decide not to test. But talk it over with your teacher.
In Japan the traditional way is very easy. You don't have to think about it. Your teacher will come up to you one day and tell you that it's about time for you to take a test. Asking you is also letting you know that your teacher thinks you are ready. As long as you prepare thoroughly the test itself should be OK.
Another kind of test is the surprise test. The bad point about it is that you don't have time to prepare. But the good point about it is that you don't have time to prepare.
These tests are almost ceremonial. If you weren't good enough you probably wouldn't have been asked.
A common approach to tests in modern budo is that you put yourself forward when you have fulfilled the requirements of time and training. Because it's easy to apply there is a much higher failure rate.
Finally to test or not to test comes down to trust. If you trust your teacher follow his or her advice. Your teacher knows and you might suspect that a promotion (apart from preparing for and taking the test which concentrates your thinking and is good in itself) will affect your aikido in a very positive way.
Before the test you feel that you're not ready for it. Then afterwards a strange thing happens. You grow into it - it pulls you upwards. People look at you differently and you have a responsibility - to yourself, as well as to the new grade and of course to your teacher - to be a good representative of the new grade. The very best representative of the new grade.
How to prepare for a test, how to do a test, and promotions by recommendation - suisen - without a test will have to wait for another day and another blog post...